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Recounting A Special Christmas Gift (And What Made It So Special)

The holidays are a special time of year. Even in a year like this, we should appreciate that. If anything, a year like this should help us appreciate it even more. Even if we can’t have big Christmas parties or shop in crowded malls, the spirit of the season is something to cherish.

I certainly have a fondness for the holidays. I’ve made no secret of that. I think a year like this has inspired me to get more personal and share more holiday joy than usual. If it helps distract us from how awful 2020 has been, I’m happy to contribute.

To that end, I’d like to share a personal holiday memory that is near and dear to my heart. It’s also fairly recent, so I won’t rely on the kind of child-like excitement that comes with getting your first bike or video game console.

That being said, I still rank my first Super Nintendo as the greatest Christmas gift of all time, but that’s a story for another time.

This particular story happened just last year, long before we knew 2020 was going to crush our spirits. It involves a very special gift that I received from my brother. I’m not sure if he reads this site regularly, but he knows better than anyone why this gift was so special.

To set the stage, I need to explain some of my family’s holiday traditions. Ours aren’t that unique. Me, my siblings, and their significant others all gather at my parents’ house. We all bring our gifts, put them under the tree, and make opening them this big shared event. It’s simple, but it hits all the right holiday tones.

Traditionally, my family knows what to get me long before Christmas. They know me well and they know my tastes are simple. Get me some comic books, some superhero apparel, or something related to football and I’m a happy guy. I like to think I’m fairly easy to shop for.

That didn’t stop my brother from going the extra mile this year. As it just so happened, his was one of the last gifts I’d opened. At that point, I was already a happy guy, swimming in new comics and clothes. This last gift, however, caught me by surprise in a very personal way.

I still remember holding the seemingly innocuous box. It didn’t look like anything elaborate. For all I knew, it was another comic or Blu-Ray movie. I just casually opened it. That’s when I saw it.

It was a framed picture.

Specifically, it was a picture of my grandmother, who had passed away just a few years ago.

Seeing her again, even in a picture, hit me in a way I didn’t respect. Even though she had been gone for years at that point, seeing her again reminded me of how much I missed her. It was somewhat jarring, but in a good way.

I just remember taking the picture out, holding it up, and looking at it for a good long while. I might have disrupted the overall jolly spirit of the room, but I think they understood why.

My brother, along with the rest of my family, knew how close I was to my grandmother. They also knew how hard it was for her during her final years. I visited her regularly and I watched as her health declined. It wasn’t easy, to say the least.

It helped that this particular picture that my brother framed was taken shortly before she fell ill. She was still smiling, as lively as any woman in her 90s could be at that point. Seeing that look on her face, even if it was just in a picture, was enough to make my heart skip a beat.

I almost broke down, but I managed to keep it together. It helped that my older sister came over and hugged me. She knew how much my grandmother meant to me, as well. It was a powerful moment, but one that made both that gift and that Christmas extra special.

That picture my brother gave me still has a prominent place on my shelf. As I write this, it’s right behind me. It still brings me comfort to this day, seeing my grandmother in that picture. For that, I’ll always be grateful to her and to my brother for giving me such a special gift.

Bro, if you’re reading this, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thank you for making that Christmas special and for going the extra mile in giving me that gift. You’re the best!

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Holiday Memories: A Cherished Thanksgiving Memory

As you get older, you come to treasure certain memories more than most. It’s a natural thing. If you’ve conducted yourself a certain way, it can be a beautiful thing. It’s not always a pleasant process, especially as you encounter major life challenges and inevitable hardships. That doesn’t make it any less meaningful.

The holidays are a time during which we form many such memories. I certainly have. Some of my most cherished memories occurred over the holidays. Some were on Christmas and some were on Thanksgiving. This year, with so many friends and family still isolated due to the pandemic, I find myself contemplating those memories more than usual.

I doubt I’m alone. There’s just no getting around it. For Thanksgiving, especially, we just can’t do things the way we normally do in 2020. That’s just the reality of a deadly pandemic. We can’t travel, get together, or casually share used forks. It’s sad and frustrating, but that’s just the way things have to be for this year.

For me and my family, that’s especially difficult. That’s because every year, my parents make it a point to make their house, the same one I grew up in, the epicenter of all things Thanksgiving. Every year, family from all over traveled to our part of the country to get together, have a giant meal, and just enjoy each other’s company.

These gatherings were often the biggest family gatherings of the year. It wasn’t unusual for there to be at least 20 people crammed into that house. It was big and rowdy, but we all loved it. I certainly did. We had so much fun, sharing in the joys of food, family, and football. I’m really going to miss that this year.

Rather than dwell on that, though, I’d like to share a quick personal story that I hope will get others through this pandemic-hit holiday. It just happens to be one of my favorite Thanksgiving memories of all time and one that perfectly defines what makes my family so awesome.

This particular memory unfolded when I was fairly young. I was still in elementary school at the time and much of my extended family wasn’t that much older. Once again, my parents made their house the central focus of Thanksgiving festivities and we attracted quite a crowd. I remember aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends joining in, some of which I hadn’t seen in years.

In addition to the usual gathering and feasting, the weather this year was just perfect. It was unusually warm for late November. A number of cousins and friends wore shorts and a T-shirt. It was just that nice out. As a result, we hung around outside a lot more than usual. It’s here where this Thanksgiving memory really takes hold.

Shortly after we ate, a bunch of cousins and extended family gathered in the backyard and started throwing around a football, as many are inclined to do on Thanksgiving. It started as a simple game of catch between a few cousins. It then evolved into a full-fledged game, complete with route running, elaborate plays, and touchdown dances.

We didn’t plan it.

We didn’t keep score.

We didn’t even set clear rules and time limits.

We all just came together as friends and family to play a football game in the backyard. It felt so natural and organic. It was a perfect manifestation of everything we loved about Thanksgiving get-togethers.

If that weren’t memorable enough, some clouds rolled in near sunset and it started raining suddenly. However, not one person in the backyard ran inside. If anything, it just made everyone more excited to play. The game kept going. We kept running around, tackling each other, and just had an all-around great time.

Being a kid with a belly full of Thanksgiving dinner, I honestly didn’t want it to end. I wanted to just hang out back there and play football until the sun went down. Even as some friends and family had to leave, we kept going for as long as we could. When it finally ended, I knew on some levels that this had been a special Thanksgiving.

Time has only proven that sentiment right. To date, it’s one of my most cherished Thanksgiving memories. I’ll likely cherish it even more as I endure a Thanksgiving without that big family gathering I’ve come to love and appreciate. I know many in my family feel the same way.

Thanksgiving this year may be disappointing in its scope, but I would encourage them and everyone who shares that feeling to think back to those memories. More importantly, use them as inspiration, as well as motivation, to make Thanksgiving in 2021 even more special.

I hope this little story has boosted your holiday spirits. I also hope everyone finds a way to enjoy Thanksgiving this year, however tempered it might be. The holidays are here. Let’s not allow a pandemic to dampen our spirits.

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Celebrating The Return Of “Animaniacs” (With A Zany Personal Story Of Meeting Rob Paulsen)

We live in a strange era of reboots, re-launches, and revivals. It’s brought out a lot of mixed feelings and extreme reactions from fans of all stripes. Some people love it. Some people hate it. Some people are just completely indifferent.

Regardless of how you feel about it, there’s no escaping it. The rise of streaming media and the public’s endless appetite for new content makes it as inevitable as death, taxes, and Thanos. We’ve no one to blame for this trend but ourselves is what I’m saying.

It doesn’t always go well. In fact, there have been more misses than hits. Just as fans of “Star Trek,” “Star Wars,” and “Roseanne.” However, some franchises are just more conducive to reboots/revivals more than others. That brings me to the latest revival effort by Hulu for a zany show called “Animaniacs.”

Now, if you were a kid or pre-teen in the 90s, there’s a very good chance you grew up watching this show. It debuted during the apex of 90s era cartoons. Alongside classic Marvel cartoons like “X-Men” and “Spider-Man,” as well as heavy-hitters like “Power Rangers,” this show epitomized wacky, goofy cartoon antics to the utmost.

Personally, I have many fond memories of this show. It was one of my favorite shows to watch when I was a kid. It was even one of those rare cartoons I could still appreciate as I got older. Teenagers could watch this show and still laugh at the jokes, alongside young kids. Some jokes were surprisingly mature.

Just look up the infamous “Finger Prince” joke.

Of all the 90s shows in need of a rivial, “Animaniacs” is probably the best suited. It’s style of comedy and antics might actually work better today than it did in the 90s. When Hulu released a trailer for the upcoming revival, I became even more convinced.

We need this show.

The world needs a little zaniness.

It needs it like it needs an anvil to the head right now.

I’ve watched the trailer at least 100 times and it still puts a smile on my face. Here it is in case you still haven’t seen it.

I couldn’t be more excited about the return of this show. In celebration of the “Animaniacs” comeback, I’d like to share a quick personal story. It involves a real-life zany encounter between me and Rob Paulsen, the voice of Yakko Warner, Pinkie, and about half of every great cartoon character of the past 30 years.

Now, I need to preface this by saying this encounter is one of the high points of my adult life. I had a chance to meet Mr. Paulsen, as well as Jess Harnell and Tess MacNeille, who voiced Wakko and Dot respectively, at New York Comic Con.

Having made many trips to New York Comic Coon, which I’ve documented before, I can attest that getting in line to meet celebrities of this caliber can be harrowing. The voice actors for “Animaniacs” are among the top of the heap in terms of the voice acting hierarchy. Just getting in line to meet them required a significant effort.

That meant getting to the Jacob Javits Convention Center extra early and essentially making a beeline to the celebrity booths as soon as the doors opened. Even then, it still took a while to get to these three amazing human beings.

It was still worth the effort. However, my effort included a zany twist that just made it that much more special.

In an zany fluke of luck, I just happened to get in line in front of this girl who dressed up in this amazing costume of Dot. I wish I could find the picture of it, but I cannot overstate how amazingly adorable it was. I knew as soon as she stood behind me that I was not going to be the center of Mr. Paulsen’s attention.

I was proven correct.

Shortly before the booth opened, Mr. Paulsen himself came walking out to greet the crowd. Jess and Tess were with him. We all cheered, our inner 90s kids going crazy. Then, knowing this girl’s costume was special, I tried pointing her out to Mr. Paulsen as he walked by.

It didn’t take long for him to notice. As soon as he saw this girl’s costume, his face lit up in a way that would’ve made any cartoon character from any era proud. He immediately started talking like Yakko and greeted the girl.

Yes, by the way. He greeted her by saying “Hello Nurse!”

Keep in mind, I’m standing right next to her. Mr. Paulsen is within arm’s reach of me. I came hoping for an autograph and to express my gratitude, but seeing him react to that girl’s costume felt like something so much more. The love he had for the characters and the show really revealed itself.

You just don’t get that from most celebrities, be they athletes, celebrity chefs, or voice actors. Just being there, seeing Mr. Paulsen react to the love of the fans and these characters, was such an experience. I must have smiled for a good hour or so after that.

While that girl was definitely the star of the show, I still managed to get my picture and an autograph from Mr. Paulsen. I tried to put into words how much I appreciated his work. I’m not going to lie. My voice cracked somewhat while talking to him. I probably sounded like an idiot. He still never stopped smiling.

He, Jess, and Tess were just so wonderful on so many levels. They took the time to talk to fans. At one point, Mr. Paulsen even sung his famous countries of the world song with a fan who claimed he could sing it faster. Seeing and hearing that was a spectacle in and of itself. I wish I could put into words how amazing it was. I don’t think I can.

That’s one of the many cherished memories I have of New York Comic Con. Now that “Animaniacs” is coming back, I find myself recalling it regularly. It still brings a smile to my face.

To Mr. Paulsen, as well as Jess and Tess, I doubt he’ll ever read this. I’ll still say it. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

Thank you for being so awesome that day.

Thank you for bring so many insaney, zany voices to this world.

Countless kids in the 90s and countless more kids today will be forever grateful for it.

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Lasik Eye Surgery: The Best Money I Ever Spent

We all waste our money on incredibly stupid things. I don’t care how frugal you are. At some point in you’re life, you’re going to buy something that will ultimately be a waste of time, money, effort, and patience.

There’s nothing wrong with that. We’re only human. Hell, you could argue that wasteful spending contributes significantly to the overall economy.

Then, there are those select items or services that are worth every penny you spent and then some. They’re a lot less common and understated, but that’s exactly what makes them so valuable.

It’s easy to waste money on something stupid. Browsing Amazon or EBay for any length of time will accomplish that. Buying something that feels completely worth it, even years after the fact, is much harder.

Sometimes, it’s an investment. People who bought stock in Amazon or Google in the early 2000s can attest to that.

Sometimes, it’s personal, like a ring or a piece of artwork. The dollar value, in that case, isn’t as great as the sentimental value.

Sometimes, you buy something that you don’t think is too valuable at the time, but it only grows over time, like your first comic book, video game, or romance novel.

I could list some of my most cherished purchases and tell the story behind them. However, I’d like to highlight just one that, by pretty much every measure, was the best money I ever spent. It wasn’t an investment. It wasn’t cheap, either.

It was elective Lasik Eye Surgery. To date, this is still the greatest thing I ever spent my hard-earned money on.

Now, the story behind this requires a little context. For the first 25 years of my life, I endured some seriously terrible eyesight issues. I found out early on that I had Astigmatism. It gave me blurred vision and terrible headaches. It was not pleasant in the slightest. As a result, I started wearing glasses when I was in third grade.

I never liked it. I didn’t like how my glasses made my look, but I needed them. I couldn’t see squat without them. It only got worse over time, so much so that I could barely see my alarm clock in the morning, even though it was just a few feet away from me. For a while, I wore contacts. However, they were expensive, uncomfortable, and a pain in the ass to maintain.

Naturally, I was open to alternatives. I’d been looking into Lasik Eye Surgery for a while, but I was told I wasn’t a candidate while I was a teenager. I was still growing and my eyes were still getting worse. In addition, the technology at the time was still emerging and still extremely expensive.

It was also not something that insurance covered. If I wanted to ever do this, I’d have to pay for it out of pocket. For someone who left college with plenty of student loan debt, it seemed like a distant dream.

I endured glasses and terrible vision for most of my 20s. Even after I paid down my student loan debt, I continued life with glasses and contacts. My eyesight continued to be an ever-present pain in the ass.

Then, as it just so happened, I had a roommate who had Lasik surgery done. She also had eyesight issues similar to mine. She was the one who referred me to the doctor who ultimately did the surgery.

At the time, I’d saved up approximately $7,500. Some of that was emergency money, but most of it was mine to spend. This surgery would cost me around $6,500 total. Again, insurance wasn’t going to pay for this. I had to foot the entire bill. While I was conflicted for a time, I ultimately decided to take the plunge.

To date, it’s one of the best decisions I ever made.

I won’t say the procedure was easy. In fact, it was downright uncomfortable and the drugs they gave me were a bit too strong. On top of that, I needed two procedures to fully fix my eyes. My vision was just that bad.

However, as soon as I got up from that operating table, it was like a miracle. To this day, I still remember that feeling. When I went into the operating room without my glasses, there was this large warning sign about wearing eye protection while the lasers were operating. I couldn’t see much of it. Most of the letters were blurry.

Then, as soon as I got up, those letters were clear. I could read them. I could see them, the doctor’s face, and the details of the wall. It was like magic. I can’t put into words how amazing it felt. At that moment, it sank in.

I didn’t need glasses anymore.

I could see clearly.

I felt more attractive and confident than I had at any point during my awkward teen years. It also did wonders for my confidence. I wasn’t nearly as self-conscious anymore. I could approach people without feeling like I looked goofy. I could also wear non-prescription sunglasses. That may not seem like much, but trust me. It meant a lot to me.

If I had to pay twice the price for the same result, I’d have paid it gladly. I like to think it ultimately saved money on all the new glasses, contact solution, and doctor checkups over the years. It was both liberating and empowering.

I have great vision now and don’t have to worry about losing my glasses. Not all my purchases can ever be that valuable, but this definitely was. Lasik Eye Surgery remains the greatest money I ever spent. Until I meet the love of my life, I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

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A Personal (And Mildly Painful) Story About A Fond Summer Memory

This has been a bittersweet summer, to say the least. This might be the first summer since college where I haven’t been able to go on a real, actual vacation. It’s disappointing and distressing. I badly want to go to the beach, hit up a beach bar, or just visit some friends or relatives out of state. I haven’t been able to do any of that this year, due to the goddamn pandemic.

However, I don’t just want to lament at how this has been a lost summer. I like to think I’ve made the most of it, despite being stuck at home for the most part. There are ways to enjoy summer without going to the beach. They aren’t always as fun or fulfilling, but they still work.

In lieu of bemoaning my lack of vacation travels this summer, I thought I’d share a brief personal story. It’s not entirely pleasant, but it’s not overly awful either. It’s just one of those memories that stands out more than most and for reasons that are sure to become abundantly clear. It involves the beach, sunburn, and how a simple oversight can cause plenty of discomfort.

This particular memory takes place a number of years ago around the 4th of July. That year, I decided to head up to the beach to celebrate the holiday weekend. The weather was perfect. The food was as delicious as it was unhealthy. There were no masks, social distancing, or angry fights that broke out when someone sneezed. Good times, indeed.

Needless to say, I was looking forward to a relaxing trip. On my first full day there, I was set to spend most of the day out on the sand with my dad. Since it was sunny and over 90 degrees out, we both made it a point to go heavy on sunscreen. For me, that’s somewhat challenging. I burn very easily and I’ve had many vacations undermined by nasty sunburns. At this point, though, I’d gotten pretty good at protecting myself.

On this day, I thought I did everything right. I lathered up as much as I could. I even used extra for good measure. I did not want to get burned. I wanted this trip to be memorable for all the right reasons. I thought I succeeded. The fact I smelled like a coconut for hours should’ve been proof of that.

Sadly, I was wrong.

I didn’t know it at the time, but there was one part of my body that I neglected. Trust me, it’s not the part your thinking. It was the top parts of my feet.

This may sound like a trivial oversight. Trust me, it isn’t and I had to learn that the hard way. I didn’t know it at the time, though. I just went about my day of surf, sand, and relaxation. My dad and I had an awesome time. We just lofted about without a care in the world, enjoying the summer sun at the beach. It was pure nirvana.

I only started to realize my oversight shortly after we got back. I realized the top parts of my feet were stinging. I wasn’t sure why until I kicked off my flip-flops. That’s when I saw it. A distinct pattern of red sunburn had formed all over the top of my feet. At the time, I just thought it was a mild inconvenience. I didn’t get burned anywhere else, so I thought I had avoided the worst.

Again, I was wrong.

It turns out that getting sunburned on the top of your feet is one of the worst places to get it. It’s not just that it makes wearing socks and shoes a lot more painful. The simple act of taking a shower, stretching your legs, or sleeping under the covers at night became a test in pain tolerance. At least on your back and arms, you can apply ointment or creams to alleviate the pain. It’s not as easy on your feet.

I won’t say this ruined my trip. I still had fun. It just complicated it. I had to be a lot more careful when it came to putting on socks and wearing flip-flops. I had to take lukewarm showers for a while. I also couldn’t go in any hot tubs. It was a bummer, but I got through it.

Thankfully, the pain only lingered for a few days. However, once my skin started peeling, it made for some interesting challenges with laundry. I’m pretty sure I had to throw away at least three pairs of socks after that trip. It was not a pleasant experience, but it did teach me a valuable lesson.

When it comes to applying sunscreen, do not skip the tops of your feet. You do not want to get burned there.

For those lucky enough to still have access to a beach, I hope you heed this advice. For those stuck in place, like me, try to remember it when this crisis is finally over. Next summer, we’ll have a chance to make up for all the time we’ve lost this year. Just be careful. You don’t want to get burned in the wrong place.

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Recounting The Dumbest Injury I Ever Got

We all like showing off scars. It doesn’t matter how big they are. We still use them as a catalyst to tell stories about ourselves. I don’t always get it. It’s just one of those weird things people do to make them seem tougher and more badass than they really are.

It’s not just a man thing, either. Women do this too. They just tend to be more subtle about it.

I have my share of scars from lingering injuries over the years. Each one of them has a story behind it. Some are more painful than others. There are a few I’d rather not share. Instead, I’m going to share a different kind of story about bodily injuries. Specifically, I’m going to tell the story about the dumbest injury I ever got.

It left no badass scar.

It didn’t make me tougher or stronger.

It was just a stupid fluke of an injury that taught me how hilariously frail the human body can be. More than anything else, I hope this story makes you laugh and appreciate the less foolish injuries we endure.

This particular injury occurred when I was playing little league baseball. For a time, it was a spring tradition. My dad would sign me up for little league and we’d build our weeks around it. For the most part, it was great. I loved baseball. I loved playing. I won’t say I was that good, but I certainly wasn’t that bad, either. I had fun, for the most part.

Like with any sport, you’re bound to get a few injuries here and there. I’d endured a few in that time. It was nothing I couldn’t handle. It was nothing that left a scar, either. I got lucky, compared to some of my teammates.

That changed one fateful day at practice. I think I was in the 4th or 5th grade at the time. I wasn’t doing very well that day. I don’t know why. My game was just off. I wasn’t hustling as much as I usual. I was content to just get through practice and prepare for the game.

Then, during fielding drills, the coach hits a ball my way while I’m playing outfield. Rather than glove it, I reach down to pick up the ball so that I can make a play at third base. In doing so, I badly jam my middle finger right against the ball.

It was the flukiest of fluke plays. I reached in and hit the ball with my finger at just the right angle to do some damage. I felt that damage too because I immediately whined about it. I still tried to shake it off, but by the end of practice, my middle finger was noticeably bruised. Part of it also started swelling. By the next day, my finger looked like it got stung by multiple bees.

It hurt like hell. On top of that, it was the same hand I used to write with. That made doing school work more painful than it already was. However, that wasn’t what made the injury so dumb. What truly made it stand out was that, for nearly a week, I could not bend my middle finger.

That meant that, for reasons beyond my control, it looked like I was giving everyone the finger. It was funny at times, but it hurt so much at the time that I don’t remember laughing much. I didn’t need a splint or anything. I just had to wait for it to heal. That was a long wait and there were plenty of embarrassing moments in between, especially at school.

I’m sure my parents remember some of those moments. I complained to them a lot and the best anyone could offer was a bag of ice. It was a miserable time, to say the least. I almost preferred a more serious injury. That would’ve made for a better story to tell. You just can’t tell a great story about picking up a baseball awkwardly and jamming your finger.

It did eventually heal. I did eventually go back to playing little league. I was just a lot more careful when it came to fielding ground balls. I endured more injuries over that time, but none were quite as dumb as that.

If you’ve got a dumber injury you’d like to share, please do so in the comments. Let’s not pretend every injury is epic. We’re all fallible human beings at the end of the day. We’re going to do stupid things and hurt ourselves in stupid ways. The best we can do is laugh about it and learn from it.

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A (Real) Story About Temptation, Peer Pressure, And Spicy Chicken Wings

I love spicy food. I make no secret of that. I’m the kind of guy who gets weird looks at a restaurant when I put buffalo sauce on potatoes. Some think it’s strange and a little unappetizing. I refuse to apologize for it.

As much as I love spicy food, I have my limits. There is such a thing as too spicy for me. I’ve had chicken wings dipped in sauce that caused me to run to the nearest sink and pour cold water on my head. I learned early on in my diet that there’s a fine line between spicy food and devil spit. I’ve since become quite capable at walking that line whenever I order chicken wings.

I’m glad I did because when it comes to spicy food, you don’t want to learn the hard way how hot it can get. While there are real methods for gauging the spiciness of a food, namely the Scoville Scale, there’s only so much numbers can tell you. For some people, the dangers of using a sauce that measures 1,000,000 Scoville units just doesn’t register.

Those people are destined to learn the hard way how much spice they can handle. As it just so happens, I have a story about one of those people that I’d like to share.

With summer upon us and barbecue foods dominating our dishes, I think the time is right for a quick reminder of what happens when spicy foods go too far. It was also around this time of year that a former co-worker of mine learned just how far it can go and paid the price.

To set the stage, this happened at one of my first jobs out of college. I’d been at this company for about a year or so. I’d made some good connections and quality friends. One of them was a fun-loving guy who I’ll call Derek, out of respect for his privacy. When you see how this story plays out, you’ll appreciate that.

Derek was a lot more extroverted than me. I was still coming out of my social awkwardness shell from high school. This guy, who was also fresh out of college, just loved hanging out and connecting with people. He frequently led other co-workers to nearby restaurants for beers and wings after long days at the office. Sometimes, I attended. Most of the time, I didn’t.

As it just so happens, one of the nearest restaurants to the office I worked at was a well-known buffalo wing place. Like many wing places, they had a broad selection of spicy wings to choose from. One, in particular, was so hot that you had to sign a waiver before ordering it. They called it the Widowmaker. It was said to use the infamous Ghost Peppers in its sauce, but the specifics were a well-kept secret.

I can’t remember too many people who dared to try it. For reasons that are still the stuff of legend, Derek decided to take the plunge one fateful evening after a long day at the office. I can’t get into too many specifics. I’ll just say that there was a considerable amount of beer and peer pressure involved.

To the credit, and chagrin, of my co-workers, they cheered him on. They offered to pay for the entire tab that night if he took up the challenge. It took surprisingly little convincing. Derek wasn’t even that drunk. He’d had only one beer at that point. He still signed the waiver and ordered the Widowmaker.

He was excited.

He was determined.

He claimed he could handle spicy foods better than most.

He would come to regret that boast.

When the Widowmaker wings came out, he was so confident. He looked like he was ready to take on the heavyweight champ in a boxing match. My co-workers were still cheering. He prepared himself mentally. It was a tense moment for everyone involved. He wanted to go down in history as one of the select few who’d finished those wings.

Then, he took his first big bite and swallowed quickly. It turned out to be his last of the evening.

The details after this get a bit fuzzy, but he went from determined to defeated in the blink of an eye. One second, he had the eye of the tiger. The next, it looked like he’d been punched in the jaw, gut, and balls by Mike Tyson on crack. He keeled over, started coughing, and started chugging ice water by the gallon.

Some laughed. Others cringed. A few had to help him to the bathroom so he could wipe the sweat and snot from his face. Needless to say, we all figured out why the restaurant demanded that people sign a waiver.

Derek didn’t come into work the next day. He claimed he needed a sick day. I think his pride was the only thing seriously ill after that experience. He also claimed that he had to stay within 10 feet of a toilet for the day. I don’t doubt him.

When he did come back, he was in good spirits. My co-workers did apologize profusely for goading him into eating the Widowmaker, but he just smiled and accepted. I think in hindsight, it was a humbling experience for him. It’s the kind of experience I think we all need at some point in our lives. Some are just more painful than others. This was one of them.

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Drunks Vs. Stoners: How College Shaped My Opinion On Both

College is a weird and wonderful time. The experience varies for everyone, but it’s remarkable in that it gives teenagers on the cusp of adulthood their first taste of real independence. Most handle it fairly well. Others don’t. We know who those people are. We can identify them in almost every college movie ever made.

My experience was special in so many ways. I often credit college with finally cracking the thick shell of misery, social anxiety, and self-doubt that I’d built up over four years of high school. It was an experience I needed. I’m a better adult because I went to college. I learned many life lessons there, but I’d like to share one particular lesson that stands out more than most.

It has to do with stoners and drunks. Depending on your college experience, if you had one, this should bring back memories.

Specifically, I’d like to highlight why I preferred hanging out with stoners more than drunks. It’s something I confronted early on in my college career. As a freshman, I lived in an all-male dormitory. It was quite rowdy, to say the least, and I have any number of colorful stories that I could share. One in particular stands out and it set the tone for how I’d deal with both groups.

Even for those who didn’t go to college, there’s a good chance you’ve dealt with heavy drinkers before. They come in many varieties. Some are happy drunks, like me. When I get drunk, I tend to laugh, stumble, and hug random strangers for no reason. I’m overly affectionate, albeit sloppy. I tend to make a fool of myself, but in a not-so-messy way.

Then, there are the not-so-happy drunks. They’re the kind of people who, when they drink, have a tendency to get more confrontational. They’re not always violent, but they are uninhibited in terms of their willingness to pick fights. I remember being at a bar and seeing someone get pissed off because some girl laughed at his shirt. I could tell from how he was standing that he had a few too many.

While these types of drunks weren’t as common as the happy drunks, they often left their mark and not just with hangovers. Even among happy drunks, they did some damage and not all of it was physical. They would say things and conduct themselves in ways that made for some awkward conversations once they sobered up. One guy in my dorm had a bad reputation for pissing in the elevator every Saturday.

With stoners, the story was different and a bit more consistent. I got to know a few in my sophomore year. They were, by and large, the easiest kind of people to hang out with. Once they got stoned, they weren’t too picky about how they wanted to spend their time. They were happy just watching TV, listening to music, and lofting about without a care in the world.

For someone with sub-par social skills, like me at the time, they were a pleasant surprise. I was able to get along with them a lot easier than heavy drinkers, who instinctively wanted to do something crazy every half-hour. Stoners are just content re-watching Star Wars and bad sitcoms.

That mellow attitude was also gender neutral. There wasn’t much variation between the male and female stoners. The only thing I noticed is that the women just laughed more when they got stoned and were less likely to get paranoid. The women drinkers, however, tended to be a bit more volatile. They rarely got violent, but they were a lot more inclined to yell at people for no apparent reason.

One girl I knew through a roommate once got into a shouting match with her TV because the speakers kept shorting out. I’m pretty sure the TV won.

However, when it comes to incidents that best highlight why I prefer stoners over drunks, one stands out among the rest. It happened during my junior year. It was late at night and I was just returning from a friend’s birthday party. I’m almost at my dorm when I come across four guys who were definitely drunk, as their inability to stand clearly demonstrated.

They weren’t violent or confrontational, for the most part. A couple smelled awful, though. I suspect vomit was the source. They were actually really friendly with me because I was wearing a football jersey. They laughed and joked with me. Then, for reasons I still don’t understand, they decided to start throwing lit matches at each other to make one another dance. They even offered me a chance to throw one.

I politely declined and was on my way. I was laughing for most of them, but I was genuinely worried. It only took one mis-thrown match to make their antics dangerous. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. It’s still a memorable incident in that it made stoners a bit less stressful to hang out with.

To this day, I know plenty of people who drink and smoke pot. They’re all genuinely wonderful people with jobs, families, and heart. I’ll gladly have a drink with any of them. When it comes to just hanging out with no discernible goal in mind, I still prefer stoners. Their so affable and mellow. They’re also less likely to puke in my kitchen sink.

Yes, that happened once.

No, I’d rather not go into detail.

It’s just one of the many insightful experiences I gained in college. It might not be the most groundbreaking, but it did prepare me for the adult world in a strange, yet wonderful way.

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Recounting The Dumbest Health Scare I Ever Had

Everybody makes a fool of themselves at some point in their lives. It’s inevitable. Like traffic, taxes, and boredom at a doctor’s office, it’s an ever-present prospect. You’re going to do something stupid at some point. No matter how much time passes, you’re going to look back and cringe. You’ll feel so stupid at that moment that you’ll wonder how you ever managed put your pants on that day.

Some people have more moments than others. The capable people learn and grow from them. The idiots and narcissists never learn, but make endless excuses. I don’t deny I’ve had a number of those moments in my life. Some are more foolish than others. A few are things I’m not comfortable sharing. I will, however, share one that still makes me cringe and laugh with distressing regularity.

It involves a health scare that I had a while back. Don’t worry. It’s quite possibly the dumbest health scare you’ll ever hear about that doesn’t involve a hang nail or something a kid learned in sex ed. If anyone has anything stupider, I’d love to hear it.

Before I get into detail, I need to note the context of this scare. I’m not making excuses. I’m just highlighting that it didn’t come out of nowhere. This happened shortly after a close relative began undergoing cancer treatments. On top of that, heart disease ran in my family. I had a valid reason for being overly cautious about my health.

That didn’t make what happened any less stupid.

It happened one day when I was trimming my beard. I noticed a strange bump on my lower-right chin. It didn’t feel like anything I’d felt before. I tried to look closer. I couldn’t tell what it was through my facial hair. It didn’t feel like a bruise or an ingrown hair. It just felt like a regular bump.

At first, I shrug it off. Then, I start picking at it, as people tend to do with things they don’t understand. Naturally, it starts growing. At some point, it gets a little sore. I can feel it when I chew. That’s when my mind starts racing.

What if it’s a tumor?

What if it’s some malignant cyst?

What if it’s some crazy condition I don’t even know about?

I’m not going to lie. I did start anxiously browsing WebMD for information, which you should definitely not do. Browsing WebMD in hopes of determining how sick you are is like watching old cop movies to learn how to defuse a bomb. You’re only going to make it worse.

It’s because of that I seriously considered going to my doctor. I even promised myself that, if it still hurt after a week, I would make an appointment. Thankfully, it never came to that because I soon found out what it was in the dumbest way possible.

It was a goddamn pimple.

That’s it. That’s all it was. It was just a pimple that had somehow formed in my beard and got irritated, probably because I kept picking at it. I only confirmed it was a pimple when it randomly popped. Again, I was picking at it. Having had serious acne problems since I was a teenager, I knew what pimples looked like when they popped. This just happened to be a particularly large one that my beard hid.

I wish I could say it was a relief, but I just felt so stupid at the moment that I would’ve preferred something worse. I vividly remember looking at myself in my bathroom mirror with this deadpanned expression, as though I’d just tried to cut a steak with a soup spoon. I would’ve laughed if it weren’t so pathetic.

There’s a time and a place to worry about your health. A global pandemic is bound to put everyone on edge and for wholly valid reasons. However, you don’t do yourself any favors by being stupid. If anything, you’ll only find creative ways to make it worse.

I’ve had plenty of other moments in my life when I’ve felt dumb. Given current events, I thought I’d share one about my health at a time when we’re all a little extra health conscious. No matter the situation, we’re all vulnerable to doing stupid things. We just need to be a lot more careful during a pandemic.

If anyone else has a story about moments when they felt dumb, please share them in the comments. As long as we’re all stuck at home, we might as well use it as an opportunity for extra introspection.

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The Moment I Knew Puberty Began For Me

In life, there are certain moments when you know you’ve reached a certain milestone. Sometimes, it’s obvious. From the first time you drive a car to the first time you kiss someone who isn’t your mother, they stand out in your memory. It’s not always pleasant. Some moments are more awkward than others, but they mark a major change in your life.

Going through puberty is one of those things that generates more awkward moments than most. I challenge anyone to recount their transformation from kid to adult without at least one part being awkward. I’ve shared a few stories from my youth, some being a lot more awkward than others. I can laugh about them now, but they marked critical points in my life that have only become more relevant as I’ve gotten older.

For most of us, there’s no one single point when we know we’ve entered puberty. You don’t just wake up one day and know that you’re a teenager now. All those crazy mental and physical changes don’t happen all at once. If they did, few of us would survive the process with our sanity intact.

That said, there are some moments that, in hindsight, mark a particular point in your life when you realize that this transformation has become. You’ve crossed the point of no return. You’re becoming a teenager now. Eventually, you’ll become an adult. It can be daunting, but it’s a part of life.

In that spirit, I’d like to share a particular moment that still stands out to me after all these years. It’s a moment in which I realized that I wasn’t a kid anymore. Puberty has begun and there’s no going back. At that moment, it was just a strange realization that I discounted. However, over time, it became a turning point.

It happened while I was in the fifth grade. It was late spring. We had just come back from Spring Break. The weather had finally gotten nice enough to enjoy recess without heavy jackets. At the time, I didn’t think much of it. I was just glad I could stop dressing in layers.

On this particular day, though, it was very humid. Coming back from recess, everyone was a lot sweatier than usual. Being kids, we didn’t care. We were just glad to get outside and away from book reports. I don’t remember much else about what happened that day, but I can vividly recall what happened the moment we returned to class.

As soon as we sat down at our tests and my teacher got to the front of the room, she made an impromptu announcement that will forever echo in my memory.

“You all, stink.”

I swear I’m not paraphrasing. That’s exactly what my teacher told us. She was an credibly blunt, straightforward woman. She didn’t mince words and this was one instance in which they couldn’t be sugarcoated.

She took a good five minutes of class time to give an impromptu lecture on how much we smell. She wasn’t polite about it. She just said in every possible way that we really smell and we need to start using deodorant. Past teachers have told us we smelled before, but never like this. It was the first time in which I became mindful of body odor.

I was really taken aback by this, as were plenty of classmates. Keep in mind, we’re all just 5th graders. We still see ourselves as kids and not teenagers. Some were more mature than others, but we were still kids at heart. I certainly felt that way. After this, however, that changed.

When I left class that day, it started to sink in. I was going through puberty. At that point, I knew what it was. I’d taken a health class. My parents also told me about it, too. I just didn’t think it would happen for another couple years. When I looked in the mirror, I still saw a kid. Now, I took note of some very real changes.

Body odor was just one. At the same time, I started noticing acne and body hair. It was very subtle. It didn’t happen all at once, but after that day, I became much more aware of it. By the time I got to middle school, I couldn’t deny it anymore. I was a teenager at that point. That fateful day in the 5th grade was just the first time I realized it.

I’ve come to appreciate that moment more and more over the years. I still had many difficulties, as most kids do when they become teenagers. Some were more manageable than others. I probably could’ve handled it better, in hindsight. However, it’s still remarkable to think that it all began with that one fateful day.

Do you have a day like that? Is there one particular moment in which you realized puberty had begun for you? If so, please share it in the comments.

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